We judge Columbus harshly because the same power that enabled the Europeans to conquer the world also allowed them to impose their views on the world. And the views they imposed are now our views.
Even as the conquest was reaching its zenith in the 19th century, the Europeans were bringing to the world the then-novel idea that one group of people didn’t have the right to impose its will on another group.
This revolution in thinking, which ultimately undermined European imperialism, was announced by the Declaration of Independence and its assertion of the self-evident truth of human equality. It was carried further by the British who suppressed the slave trade with their all-powerful navy, commercial might and insistent diplomacy, and who led the campaign for the abolition of slavery. It was completed by American insistence after the world wars of the 20th century on the right of self-determination, the right of people to self-government.